Discover a world of options
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Rice comes in many varieties, from black Japonica to Bhutan red. These healthy recipes introduce you to the flavours and textures of outside-the-box rice options.
Rice comes in many varieties, from black Japonica to Bhutan red. These healthy recipes introduce you to the flavours and textures of outside-the-box rice.
A staple for billions, the value of rice in the prosperity and nourishment of numerous societies cannot be rivalled. For many cultures this humble grain symbolizes affluence, beauty, and fertility (hence the custom of tossing rice at newly wedded couples).
A decade ago most stores would stock just a few types of rice. What a difference a few years makes! Today, health food stores, ethnic markets, and even larger supermarkets are increasingly lined with distinctive guises of gracefully curved rice from around the globe. From the mountains of Bhutan to the wetlands of France, choosing whole grain rice from different regions makes it easy to whip up sensational meals that are both healthy and visually vibrant, with an ever-appealing range of textures.
When working with unfamiliar types of rice, it’s best to initially follow the package directions for the correct water:rice ratio and cooking time. Adjust as needed in future preparations. Because the bran blocks water penetration, whole grain rice will almost always need a longer cooking time than white varieties.
The rice should not be more than 2 in (5 cm) deep in the saucepan. If so, use a larger pot. Use a tight-fitting lid so the steam will stay in the pot while the rice cooks.
Don’t stir during cooking, as this will release starches, making the rice stick together. Exceptions are for puddings and risottos where you want a creamy consistency.
When rice is cooked, it’s best to let it stand covered for five to 10 minutes before serving to give the starches a chance to firm up. Fluff with a fork rather than a spoon.
When using medium-grain rice types such as Bhutanese red for salads, consider rinsing the grains in a strainer with cold water once cooked to remove excess starch and stickiness.
To reheat cooked rice in a saucepan add 2 Tbsp (30 mL) liquid for each cup of rice. Cover and heat in the oven for about five minutes. Cooked rice can be refrigerated for up to a week.
Fresh is best
The bran on whole grain rice is perishable and can turn rancid due to its oil content, so store your rice in a dark, cool, dry place at room temperature for up to one month. For longer storage, refrigerate or freeze in an airtight container.
The long and short of rice
Arborio, jasmine, basmati—you’re probably familiar with these standby rice varieties. But there is a whole world of rice out there with exquisite tastes and fetching hues that will have you rushing to your kitchen for the nearest saucepan. If you’re looking for a little culinary adventure, try these standouts.
A mixture of two unmilled rice varieties grown in California: a black short-grain rice and a medium-grain mahogany-red rice. The cooked rice is reddish-brown with a slightly nutty aroma and a grainlike taste, similar to wheat berries. As with all the rice discussed here, black Japonica is free of gluten.
Nutrition windfall: Similar to other whole grain rice, black Japonica is rich in dietary fibre. A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine determined that people with the most fibre in their diets were less likely to succumb to chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Add more in: rice salads, stuffings, stir-fries, curries, soups, and stews
Bhutanese red rice
Grown in the mysterious Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, this delightful heirloom rice is soft and tender with a subtle honeylike sweetness. Slightly clingy once cooked, the distinctive hue of this medium-grain rice can be attributed to its reddish-brown bran layer. Bhutanese red rice cooks up in about 20 minutes, making it a good choice when you need to get a meal on the table fast.
Nutrition windfall: One mineral Bhutanese red rice has in spades is magnesium, which has been shown in recent research to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Add more in: salads, pilafs, puddings, risottos, stir-fries, or as a simple side dish
This is a premium medium- to short-grain red rice grown as a small crop in the watery Camargue region of Southern France. It charms palates with a distinctive nutty flavour and chewy texture. Look for Camargue rice in specialty shops well stocked with European items. Generally, Camargue and Bhutanese red rice can work interchangeably in recipes.
Nutrition windfall: Camargue is a lot more nutritious than milled white rice because the bran layer underneath the husk is thought to harbour much of the naturally present vitamins, minerals, fibre, and essential fatty acids.
Add more in: pilafs, rice pudding, and salad recipes
Chinese black rice
This up-and-coming heirloom variety of rice is cultivated in China with a praiseworthy rich, sweet nutty taste and chewy texture. Not to be confused with wild rice or Thai black sticky rice, this nonsticky medium-grain rice becomes purple when cooked and can add a real “wow” factor to dishes.
Nutrition windfall: The new bastion of the health food movement, Chinese black rice possesses a surfeit of anthocyanin antioxidants—substances also found in blueberries that sweep through the body looking for disease-provoking free radicals to knock out.
Add more in: pilafs, salads, sushi rolls, stir-fries, tabbouleh, and coconut-based desserts
Belonging to a group of grasses native to North America, wild rice has been traditionally harvested by Aboriginal Canadians by canoe. It has a chewy texture and smoky, nutty flavour that stands up well to rich-tasting items such as game meats. The only downfall is that wild rice can take up to 60 minutes to cook, so consider preparing a big batch at once.
Nutrition windfall: Wild rice delivers an impressive range of nutrients such as phosphorus, immune-boosting zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins including folate.
Add more in: soups, stuffings, pancakes, muffins, salads, and casseroles